In The Book of Forgiving, Archbishop Desmond Tutu uses the example of being cut off in traffic to demonstrate our ability to choose our response in any given situation. One choice is to take it personally and become angry, which will not lead to anything positive. It will increase his blood pressure and negatively affect his attitude for an extended period of time. His other choice is grace. He can choose to attribute a forgivable reason for the driving. Perhaps a family member is in intensive care in a hospital. Or perhaps the driver is rushing to help deliver a baby. If the archbishop can identify with those feelings of fear or anxiety the other driver might be experiencing, then he is able to extend grace. When this happens, he often prays for the person and wishes them well. He’s then able to move on without it noticeably affecting his mood or the rest of his day.
Looking through the Lens of Grace
I was amazed at how true his example rang for me. I often jump to the conclusion that invites me to take personal offense to another’s behavior. I am quick to think the worst rather than provide a reasonable and understandable alternative. Since reading this story, I’ve been trying to change my way of thinking, starting with my family.
When my children act out of character, I know that I can choose to believe they are purposefully being difficult or sassy and get angry in response. But I also know that there’s another option. I can pause and think of alternative rationales for their behavior. Reminding myself that they’re normally kind and obedient can help me realize that they’re probably tired or hungry. When I can think of a non-personal reason for their behavior, then I’m more easily able to act in a loving and compassionate manner. Instead of getting angry and escalating the situation unnecessarily, I can bring gentleness and grace, and we can all move through the event with a more positive attitude. It doesn’t mean I don’t address the behavior; it just means I err on the side of grace in attributing meaning to the behavior.
Showing Grace to Ourselves
I’ve learned that I can also choose grace over judgment toward myself. I’ve dealt with perfectionism for a long time and can be pretty hard on myself when I make a mistake. Experience shows me that being hard on myself doesn’t change what happened nor does it impel me to change my behavior. The times I’ve been compassionate toward myself, I’ve received glimpses of a better way.
I had an appointment one morning and started driving my usual route to the doctor’s office. I noticed that the GPS was instructing me to take a different route. I ignored it, choosing to go the way with which I was most familiar. It turned out to be a big mistake as there was an accident further up the road that I couldn’t yet see. I ended up stuck in traffic and late for my appointment. I could have berated myself for my stubbornness, but instead I allowed myself to be human. I called ahead to let the office know I would be late and was met with grace and understanding. I then spent the extra time in the car praying and listening to worship music. I also resolved to listen to the GPS next time.
Read the rest over at The Glorious Table.